17 February 2021
The Chief Minister has issued the following statement:
Competent Authority Ministers met Dr Ivan Muscat and Mr Patrick Armstrong of STAC yesterday evening to discuss the ongoing relaxation of our COVID-19 restrictions.
Active case numbers continue to decline because of adherence to public health guidelines. We have protected our school system and the start of our vaccination programme and we should all be very proud of that.
However, we must be mindful that our vaccination programme is only at the start. It will be early Summer before the majority of vulnerable people have received their second dose. Until then we must try to avoid, at all costs, a third wave of infection, which could have significant impacts. So, the challenge for us all during Spring is to abide by restrictions and take slow and careful reconnection steps.
In our reconnection plan we have considered which activities are at low, medium and high risk of spreading COVID, and which can take place in a controlled setting. We have balanced these considerations with our strategy of protecting Islanders’ mental and physical health from conditions other than COVID.
Islanders’ livelihoods are important to their mental and physical health. Working gives people a purpose, and supports independence and stability. That is why we have recognised that getting as many people back into employment as quickly and safely possible is critical; and why we have opened up as much of the economy as we can, in controlled settings where we can lower the risk of spreading the virus.
Unfortunately, there are some sectors that are still too high risk to open, and we have put in place economic support packages for these industries.
But we will continue to progressively open as many sectors as we safely can. Following discussions at STAC and cooperation between officers and the industry, I can announce that Ministers have agreed that hotels, under strict and controlled conditions, can open alongside restaurants from Monday 22nd February.
This will allow more Islanders to return to work in controlled settings and marks another point in our reconnection strategy and a return to normality.
However, we will not be relaxing our border restrictions just yet, and hotels that choose to open from next week will only be open to staycations and arriving passengers who are required to isolate. There are already rigorous rules for these premises and further guidance will be published shortly.
Sport and recreation also have a significant positive influence on Islanders' mental and physical health; this is why we have allowed under-18s back to outdoor group sports activities from today.
I understand some Islanders’ frustration that we have delayed adult outdoor sports groups in favour of indoor hospitality. But we are balancing competing priorities, and for Ministers the priority is to allow time after each reconnection to monitor any cases and their adherence to the guidelines to make sure we don’t have any worrying clusters.
We can only achieve this balance if people stick to the guidelines, avoid going into other people's homes, and keep children safe by encouraging them to stay outside with a small group of friends, and not to congregate in large numbers or in each other's homes.
After half term, we will assess whether we can relax restrictions on medium risk activities in controlled settings. This will include singing, indoor sport and other community activities. Once we have done this, we will then look to reintroduce lower risk activities in uncontrolled settings, like meeting people in their gardens.
If, and I stress if, cases remain low and our vaccination programme maintains its good progress, we will then consider further activities in uncontrolled settings, like meetings in homes. By then our days will be getting longer, and our warmer weather will help in combatting the virus.
We plan to have vaccinated the majority of over 50-year-olds with at least one dose by the end of March, allowing us to lift some further restrictions. In parallel to this, we are developing plans on when, and under what criteria, we can relax our borders to those jurisdictions that have COVID under tight control.
Easing restrictions is a difficult balance. We have learned from what worked well last summer, but we also need to be cautious in order that we can protect our vaccination programme and keep schools open.
Ministers and officers are working hard to speak to all stakeholder groups, to give as much clarity as possible to Islanders, and to return us to normality, as soon as it is safe to do so. This is not a comfortable position for us to be in and none of us in public service want to restrict people’s liberties or livelihoods. But COVID-19 is an evolving adversary and we must guard ourselves against variants, a spike in cases, or a complex cluster.
With that in mind, Competent Authorities Ministers have asked public health officials and STAC to look at a more detailed roadmap which reconnects the Island socially, economically and above all safely, over the next weeks and few months to come. I will update Islanders when that work is completed.
I want to take the time again to thank Islanders for sticking with the guidance to date, for coming together as a community, and for being patient as we work our way through the reconnection plan.